Choosing to glorify God clears up the gray areas

I run a publishing company with two very good friends. It’s a little side business we decided to try last year, and it’s growing. It actually might be getting close to becoming a “real” business soon, and while that’s exciting, it also means a lot more challenges. Some I expected and others I didn’t.

The publishing company has a blog that the three of us update weekly, and we wanted to do TV and movie reviews. No big deal, right? Well, a legal situation in the middle of this year prompted us to start looking into the legality of using images we don’t own. Like stills from movies or television shows. It’s a big, confusing mess of legalese, and really all it amounts to is that the whole thing is sort of gray.

So what does that mean? It means you have to make the best, wisest decision you can with the information you have. Sure, you can wing it. You can guess. But that’s a surefire way of making the wrong choice. You need to think, to look at your goals, study the law, and make your decision.

Ever realized that following Jesus is sort of the same in some ways?

OT37RD9KJNToday’s verses are 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The Bible is very clear on the important aspects of following God. Who God is. Who Jesus is. The work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace through faith. Eternal security. And many others. But there are other areas that aren’t as black and white. There are other areas some people call gray. And navigating the gray areas is often the biggest source of conflict between believers.

The law is very clear about some things, and it’s a bit fuzzy on others. Best example? Modesty. Should women only wear skirts? I’m not sure if this is as big a deal today as it was 15+ years ago. When I was in high school, it was the only discussion (or it felt like it was). Jeans and slacks and trousers are considered by some to be immodest when worn by women. But the other side of that coin? What about women who live in states like Kansas where the wind never quits blowing? Have you ever tried to wear a skirt and work outside in Kansas wind? Modest isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

But there’s no verse in the Bible that says women shouldn’t wear pants. The Bible just instructs us to be modest. And modesty (to a certain extent) is a matter of preference. And that’s where an understanding of the spirit of the law needs to go into effect. What is the point? What is the truth? Why is modesty important, and what should we do achieve it?

That’s when you need to start studying. You need to start digging and asking questions. You need to look for the answers because they aren’t always obvious. And you might not ever find an obvious answer, and it’s at that point when you need to take what you know about the Bible and about who God is and what He expects and make the best choice you can.

Don’t cheap out on this, folks. That’s a quick way to get yourself in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know what to do, study. Read the Bible. Search for the answer. Get council from someone at your church who you trust. Listen. And pray. Talk to God and ask Him what you’re supposed to do. And then–choose.

It all comes down to glorifying God in everything you do. That’s how you can clear out the gray areas. That’s how you can figure out what you’re supposed to do when the answers aren’t presenting themselves easily. First and foremost, do everything for God’s glory. That means obeying His Word in letter and spirit–in letter for the instructions that are obvious and in spirit for the expectations He has for our lives.

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Read the instructions carefully or risk eating your own words

I’m in Las Vegas for a trade show with my company, and there are so many people here. I don’t even know how to count them all. I stopped off in the bathroom yesterday after lunch, and as I was washing my hands, one of the stall doors behind me opened up. And a man appeared.

A man. In the women’s restroom.

Or, wait. Was he in the right place, and I was in the wrong room? I froze for a minute, because I wasn’t sure. I’ve never been in a men’s bathroom before, so I don’t know what they look like.

Apparently he was thinking the same thing, because he just stood there staring at me. Until a woman popped out of another stall and started laughing. That answered our question. He’d gone into the wrong room.

Have you ever done that? Read a sign wrong and ended up embarrassed? I haven’t done it with a restroom sign yet, but I’ve done it in other circumstances. And it’s at that point I wish I would have slowed down and taken the time to make sure I understood where I was going before I started running.

485287_77207663Today’s verses are Psalm 119:1-8.

Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
and search for him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil,
and they walk only in his paths.
You have charged us
to keep your commandments carefully.
Oh, that my actions would consistently
reflect your decrees!
Then I will not be ashamed
when I compare my life with your commands.
As I learn your righteous regulations,
I will thank you by living as I should!
I will obey your decrees.
Please don’t give up on me!

It’s easy to take the Bible and apply our own understanding to it. We can pick any verse we want and just guess at what it means, but that doesn’t mean we actually understand what it means.

One of the many great things about God’s Word, is that it can be used to explain itself. The Bible never contradicts itself, so you can use Bible verses to understand other Bible verses. You should never just take one Bible verse and take it at face value. You have to know who it was written to, why it was written, when it was written, even where it was written.

If you don’t, you’re going to end up in trouble. If you just run haphazardly with a random Bible verse you think you understand, you’re going to confuse people and frustrate yourself. Sort of like a man finding himself in a women’s restroom, you’ll think you’ve understood the sign, but you’ll realize later that you just saw what you wanted to see.

When you’re trying to understand the Bible, don’t be afraid to ask a trusted mentor or pastor. When you’re trying to make sense of particularly difficult passages, don’t just assume that your personal experience is enough to help it make sense. And whatever you do, always ask God to help you.

If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, and He will help you understand God’s Word.

Reading the Bible isn’t like reading a book. It can be, but the Bible isn’t literature. The Bible is God’s Word to us, His instructions for how to live life, and the Bible grows with us as we grow, getting deeper and stronger and fuller with every passing year.

So take the Bible seriously, and make the time to truly understand what you read. It’s better to put the effort into it the first time than to have to eat your words later on.

Cow in the back pasture at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Chew on this

There’s a wonderful Amish dairy a few miles down the road from me, and they sell old fashioned cheese and butter and raw, unpasteurized milk. It’s pretty fantastic, actually. I love milk and milk-related products. But what if you tried to live on a diet of milk? Just milk. Nothing else. Yeah, you’d get a lot of calcium, but what about all the other nutrients you need? And, yeah, real milk tastes great but wouldn’t you get tired of the same thing over and over again?

Milk is good for you. It’s essential, especially for infants. But God gave us teeth for a reason, and milk isn’t generally something you chew.

Cow in the back pasture at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Cow in the back pasture at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 2:2.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment.

Babies need milk. If they don’t get it, they won’t grow. And they need to ask for it, cry for it. It’s an absolutely essential part of their diet, and if they don’t receive it, they will grow up unhealthy.

But what happens after they grow? What happens to babies after they are no longer babies? Adults need more than milk. Adults need proteins and fibers and complex carbohydrates. Adults need to eat vegetables and fruits and meats. If an adult tries to survive on milk, he or she won’t be very healthy because milk won’t provide the nutrients than an adult requires.

So, yes, babies need to cry out for milk. But adults are a different story. And it’s the same with our faith.

There is Scripture that is easy to swallow. There are some truths of the Christian faith that are easy to digest, that you can wrap your head around. Basic, fundamental principles that you need to absorb if you’re going to grow any further.

God loves you. God sent Christ to die for your sins so you can have a relationship with Him. God wants to have a relationship with you.

Easy stuff. Awesome stuff but easy. Of course, God loves us. Of course, Christ died for us. Of course, God wants to have a relationship with us. That’s the foundation of the Christian faith. That’s the part everyone focuses on.

Milk.

Those are the basics. But if all you hear and all you believe and all you think about and all you try to understand is that God loves you, Jesus died for you, and they want to be your friends? Yes, it’s a wonderful message, but don’t you want more? As an adult, don’t you want deeper knowledge? Don’t you want your questions answered? Don’t you want something to challenge your mind and keep you thinking? Don’t you want something to chew on?

That’s meat.

The trouble comes with the fact that some Christians look for their “meat” outside of Scripture. They’re satisfied with the milk part because it’s easy and it doesn’t require them to question beliefs they’ve held for years (evolution, dietary requirements, clothing restrictions, etc). So they drink the milk from the Bible but they go to the world to find their meat in other religions or in social circles.

You want something to chew on, Christians? Anything you pick up outside the Bible will eventually break down. Either you’ll get tired of the taste or you’ll find that you eventually are able to wrap your head around it. I saw an article yesterday about how science is pushing God out of the way because eventually since we will be able to understand everything through science, that means we don’t need God anymore. That’s meat somebody bought in a market.

The beauty of Scripture is that is never gets old. It never breaks down. It just grows more interconnected with every puzzle piece you snap in place. You and I will never reach the point where we can understand it completely.

If you really want to challenge your mind, if you really want something to think about that will make a difference in your life and in your choices, try chewing on Scripture for a little while. Try thinking about the verses that challenge your long-standing comfort-zone beliefs, like what you eat or what you wear or why you skip the third verse of hymns. Some Bible verses will change your thinking completely. And other verses, well just because someone told you they are in the Bible doesn’t mean they actually are. Think about it. You could be basing your entire religious faith on a verse that doesn’t actually exist.

But how will you know unless you read it?

Here’s what Hebrews 5:13-14 has to say:

For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. 

Nobody knows nothing

Nobody knows nothing. That was some advice that I received at a writer’s workshop in Colorado this past June, from author Bill Myers. (Yes, it’s a double negative. That’s what makes it funny.) He wanted to make sure we all knew that just because he was a published author and we were didn’t make his ideas better than ours. So basically he was telling us to take all his writing advice with a grain of salt.

I’m not sure what it is about people, but we think we have to know everything. And when we don’t know the answer to something, that means we are insufficient in some way. Maybe that’s just me and other people don’t feel that way. But I don’t think so.

And we’re the same way about the Bible, especially if you’ve grown up in church. If you don’t know the answer to some random biblical question, it’s really easy to think you’re lacking something.

Well, honestly, the Bible is a big book. And not just that, but it’s a really involved book. And not just that, it wasn’t originally written in English so many things get lost in translation.

So when you run into something that doesn’t make sense to you, what do you do? Do you give up? Do you just tell yourself that you’re faulty and that you can’t understand it? Or do you tell yourself that the Bible is faulty and can’t be understood?

Neither of those are a very good idea. Because both of them are untrue.

Instead of giving up, just ask for help. And I’m not talking about going to a pastor or a mature believer exactly. You certainly can, and that’s a great idea. But I feel like there’s someone you should ask first.

David figured it out in Psalm 119:18.

18 Open my eyes to see
the wonderful truths in your instructions.

Ask God.

The Bible isn’t difficult to understand, but there are a lot of stories to keep track of. And there is so much inside that you can spend a lifetime and not understand it all. You can spend a lifetime studying Scripture and still get something new out of it every morning.

But you need to start studying Scripture with the understanding that you’re not going to grasp it all by yourself. God needs to be studying right along with you, explaining things to you and helping you make sense of everything that’s in there.

And asking Him for help understanding Scripture isn’t wrong or bad. And it doesn’t displease Him. Actually, from what I know about God, there’s nothing He’d rather do than help you work through something in Scripture that doesn’t make sense.

So the next time you’re reading the Bible and you stumble on to something that confuses you, pray about it. Ask God to help you. Ask Him to reveal another verse to you that will explain what you just read.

That’s one of the beautiful things about the Bible. It will always interpret itself if you let it.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to your pastor or a mature believer. That’s a great idea. But you don’t need them. Ask God for help, and He’ll help you. Compare what you think you understand to the rest of Scripture, and if it aligns you may have your answer.

The Bible isn’t hard to understand, and with God’s help you can do anything. Just don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t be ashamed that you don’t know the answer. Because, honestly, nobody knows nothing about nothing.

The Bible is simple, but people make it complicated

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:130.

     The teaching of your word gives light,
      so even the simple can understand.

Why do we think we can find wisdom or truth from other sources than Scripture? Is it because our culture has convinced us that the Bible is just a book of stories that don’t matter?

I am always shocked at how people who claim to be Christians treat the Bible. If we say we’re believers, we need to be reading Scripture. If we have a question about life, we don’t need to ask Oprah or Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or the news agencies. We need to look in the Bible. Because if it’s something we need to know about life, it’s in there.

I think the majority of confusion in a Christian’s life can be eliminated if he or she will just make a habit of reading and learning the Word of God. If we are daily — shoot, hourly — comparing events in our life to the truth of Scripture, we’ll know for sure whether what we’re thinking about doing is wise or unwise. We’ll know what God says about the future. We’ll know what God says about right now. We’ll know because everything we need to know is in the Bible.

And it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, the Bible is easy to understand. Granted, if the Scripture isn’t written in your language, there might be some confusion. So you modern English speakers need to get a hold of a New Living Translation version of the Bible, and anyone out there who still speaks Shakespearean English, you should get a King James Version. All of the Bibles we have here are translations anyway, so unless you speak Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, you’ll have to read a translation. So you might as well pick one that’s in your language.

But when you read Scripture, God gives you light. He gives you truth. He gives you understanding. That’s what this verse says. God grants His light to people who read His word, and it’s not complicated. The truth in the Bible is very very simple. Profound, of course. But oftentimes I’ve discovered that the most profound truths in life are inherently simple. So easy to understand that even a child can grasp the concept.

So it doesn’t matter if you have a doctorate or if you’re some indigenous tribal person in a village in the middle of Guatemala, God’s Word is for you.

Don’t buy into the lies our culture tells that Scripture is just a bunch of made up stories about morality. What is written in the Scripture is alive. You can read the same passage over and over again for a week, and it will mean something different to you every day. Because as we grow in our walk with God, the Bible broadens and deepens for us . . . or maybe it’s better said that our understanding of Scripture broadens and deepens. The Bible grows with us.

And don’t believe it when people tell you that the Bible is hard to understand. Don’t think that only pastors and scholars can make sense of the Bible. Don’t read more into it than you think is there. The Bible is literal. Trying to make a figurative story out of a literal truth is confusing.

When the Bible says God created the world, it means that He created the world. When the Bible says that God destroyed the world with a flood, it means that He destroyed the world with a flood. When the Bible says that Jonah survived three days and three nights in the belly of a giant fish, it means that really happened. It means David really killed Goliath. It means Elijah really called down fire on Mt. Caramel. It means Jesus really did miracles. Now, are there figurative stories in Scripture? Yes, but you can usually tell those because the characters aren’t named. A good example is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Now, it might have really happened, but that is one of the stories Jesus told that was figurative–but He used it to explain a literal truth.

The Bible is easy to understand. It’s just us who make things complicated. And if you’ve had trouble understanding Scripture before, try reading it again. And if you simply can’t understand it, come find someone who you know does and ask for their help. If they’re any sort of mature believer, they will be eager to help you dig deeper into Scripture because they are still learning about it too.